Friday, May 14, 2010

Ego will steer James' next move

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once tried to define pornography, but had a tough time doing so.

"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [of pornography], Justice Potter wrote in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964). "Perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it."

Ask me to define "bad body language" and I feel a lot like Potter did all those many years ago. I may not be able to put it into words, but I know when I see it, and I saw a lot of it coming from LeBron James last night as the Cleveland Cavaliers finished up their latest underachieving season.

You can blame it on the balky elbow, a shaky supporting cast or the numerous off-court distractions that follow the "NBA's best player" around on a daily basis. Whatever the excuse, James came up empty in TD Garden, even while understanding that his legacy in Cleveland was on the line.

Apologists and PER fanatics will point to James' impressive line of 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists as proof that "The King" did all he could to help lift his overmatched teammates over a veteran-laden Celtics club peaking at the right time.

Numbers have never been so hollow. That triple-double conveniently ignored the nine turnovers, the slumping shoulders and the willingness to defer big shots to those same teammates everyone dismisses.

LeBron James now has the opportunity to opt out of the last year of his deal.
A triple-double is usually the hallmark of truly great all-around players. Only four or five guys in all of basketball have the skill to put up numbers like James did in a losing effort last night.

But, no one has ever questioned James' skill. His grit, determination and willingness to do whatever it takes to win? That still has to be proven.

Special players are defined by an abstract concept not contained in any box score -- making their teammates better.

Think back to the 1990-91 season, the first of Michael Jordan's six NBA championships. Sure, he had his running mate in Scottie Pippen but the rest of his supporting cast featured pedestrian players like Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, B.J. Armstrong, Scott Williams and John Paxson.

M.J. made every single one of his teammates better. I can't say the same for LeBron -- not yet.

At just 25, James still has the bulk of his NBA career in front of him. Remember, Jordan didn't win his first NBA crown until he was 28, in his seventh NBA season. Of course, James, who entered the league directly from high school, just finished his seventh year and now has the opportunity to opt out of the last year of his deal and explore free agency.

"I didn't play this season wondering what I was going to do in the off- season," James said. "I approached every game, every practice, every day like it was my last. I just wanted to try to continue getting better as a leader and as a player everyday. Never at one point, at any point, did it factor in what I'm gonna do this summer."

Because the NBA plays financial favoritism to teams re-signing their veterans, James could stand to make about $30 million more with the Cavs if he stays with them vs. signing with New York or Chicago. However, a larger media market could expand endorsement opportunities, making up the difference.

"It's all about winning for me and I think the Cavs are committed to doing that, but at the same time I'm giving myself options to this point," James said regarding the impending free agency. "My team, we have a game plan that we're going to execute. We'll see where we'll be at."

All the greats are addicted to winning and James could have taken his team's biggest distraction off the table and disposed of it months ago by inking an extension. His drug seems to be adulation.

While the waiting has just begun, I have a feeling "The King" is set to abdicate his throne in Cleveland unless the franchise brings in his hand- picked coach, Kentucky's John Calipari, at a hefty price tag.

The bright lights of the big city are beckoning. It's New York or Chicago, the Big Apple or the Second City, Gotham or Chi-town.

James' ego demands it.

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